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Bob Dickerson: Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

By Robert Dickerson

We’ve heard the term closing the racial wealth gap throughout the past quarter century. Conversations and strategies to accomplish the feat have intensified over the past few years. Events like the murder of George Floyd, literary pieces like the 1619 Project, the annual publication of the State of Black America by the National Urban League have raised in the consciousness of many in the country that there is a gap, that it is serious, unhealthy and will only get worse unless action is taken.

So, as we prepare for the 2023 edition of the A G Gaston Conference, it occurs to me that A G Gaston had a formula for helping to close the gap and that formula was and is Green Power.

A G Gaston, a man for his time, was all about closing the racial wealth gap.  His way of closing the gap mirrored Booker T Washington’s philosophies encouraging Industry, thrift, discipline, and ownership. Despite its many ills, America affords opportunity to those who like Gaston, found needs and filled them.  He is proof that entrepreneurship is often rewarded with financial success.

Economic Empowerment through Enterprise Development, for many years the published theme of our conference, has continues to be its undergirding idea. Starting and succeeding in business is a way of pulling oneself and family into a more secure economic condition. In Gaston’s case, it produced wealth as at one point his net worth was estimated at $150 million.

Now clearly, Gaston didn’t start his businesses to make social statements, he saw opportunities and he seized them. Workers in the Westfield mines wanted lunches like the ones he brought to work so he and his mother made and sold them. Realizing that people collected funeral expenses after someone died, he started a business that insured a proper and decent burial. Gaston’s story is one that clearly supports the notion that success breeds success. Clearly, the Black Titan had the midas touch.

“Green Power The Successful Way of A G Gaston,” tells many stories about Gaston’s beginnings, his journey, and what he recommends to others as ways to become successful. Paying attention to and enacting his suggestions are ways to gain economic “Green Power” and begin to close the gap.

Paraphrasing what Gaston suggests would start with practicing thrift and discipline. Save money as it does not spoil. Secure you future and always pay yourself first. Invest in appreciating assets. A tailored suit with no money in its pocket is far less valuable than an off the rack 10-year-old one that might be slightly out of fashion but has its pockets full.

Build a good reputation with people who can contribute to your success. Gaston’s rise was as much a product of his connections as his individual skill and acumen. People trusted him, his partners, his bankers, his employees. His reputation garnered him the respect and support from others and was critical for his rise. He would also admonish us to invest and ensure your future to create Green Power.  His Booker T Washington insurance company allowed blacks to have life insurance, leaving wealth and resources to future generations. Gaston’s philosophy indicated that being successful in business required following certain rules. That the results you get are inextricably tied to the things that you do.

Entrepreneurship, successful business ownership creates wealth. True then and now. Successful business ownership with the appropriate understanding of business law, succession planning, and taxation can lead to generational wealth. Understanding finances and financial products, owning appreciating real estate, being disciplined and thrifty are important as well.

As we celebrate Black History Month and A G Gaston, I invite you to join us at the 19th A G Gaston Conference, February 21-22 at the BJCC. This year’s symposium is as always, a place for learning and developing better business practices, a platform where accomplished leaders, orators and business owners share their experiences, an environment of celebration, challenge and empowerment and an opportunity to inspire the next generation.

As conference organizers, our mission is to “Elevate African American Entrepreneurship”. We know that by doing so we create more “Green Power” continuing to close the racial wealth gap.